​Terpenes and the Renaissance of Craft Beer: A Flavourful Fusion

Posted by TL Knowledge Team on 29th Aug 2023

​Terpenes and the Renaissance of Craft Beer: A Flavourful Fusion

In the vibrant tapestry of the beverage industry, craft beer holds a distinctive thread. For aficionados and casual drinkers alike, craft beer represents more than just an alcoholic beverage; it's an art form. A vivid expression of flavours, aromas, and stories. But, as with many art forms, there's a constant drive for innovation, a need to elevate and redefine. 

One such innovation brewing in the vats of craft beer makers is the infusion of terpenes.

The Alchemy of Beer Brewing

To understand why craft breweries are turning to terpenes, we must first step back and comprehend the alchemy of beer brewing. Traditional brewing is a delicate process where grains, hops, and water are combined, fermented, and then refined. But this process, while producing a delightful drink, sometimes strips away certain aromatic compounds. The subtle notes of pine, citrus, or berry that hops might naturally possess can be lost or diminished during brewing.

Traditionally, the hop plant, a cornerstone of beer brewing, was the primary source of terpenes in beers. Hops contain terpenes like myrcene, pinene, and limonene that give beers their classic piney, citrusy, or floral notes. However, with the growing interest in craft beers, there has been a surge in exploring diverse aromatic profiles. This has led brewers to tap into the broader world of terpenes, beyond just hops.

Terpenes Notes in Craft Beer

Terpenes, those organic hydrocarbons found abundantly in plants, especially cannabis, have long been recognised for their aromatic properties. In plants, they play a protective role, deterring herbivores while attracting pollinators. In beer, however, their role is rather different.

When breweries infuse their brews with terpenes, they're aiming to reintroduce or enhance those aromatic profiles lost during the brewing process. Imagine sipping a beer and being enveloped by the crisp aroma of a pine forest, or the tangy scent of fresh citrus fruits. That's the power of terpenes. They take the sensory experience of drinking beer to an entirely new dimension.

With a renewed focus on enhancing flavours and aromas, brewers turned to the microscopic world of terpenes to create unique, complex brews.

Real-world Applications

While terpenes have traditionally been associated with cannabis and essential oils, their aromatic properties make them suitable for experimentation in beer production. 

Several craft breweries, especially in regions where cannabis is legalised, have been experimenting with terpene infusions. They're not just looking to reintroduce the scents and flavours lost during brewing but are also exploring the vast aromatic potential terpenes can offer.

For instance, the myrcene terpene, which has a profile rich in earthy and fruity notes, can enhance beers aiming for a tropical or citrusy profile. Limonene, with its unmistakably zesty citrus aroma, can elevate a summer ale's crispness. And for those darker, deeper brews, the woody and spicy nuances of alpha-pinene can provide a rich complexity.

As cannabis legalisation spreads, some breweries have started experimenting with cannabis-derived terpenes. These aren't necessarily about introducing THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis) but rather about leveraging the aromatic and flavour terpene compounds in cannabis.

It's a Functional Matter, And a Matter of Balance

But it's not just about indiscriminately adding terpenes to beer. It's a matter of balance, of understanding the synergy between hops and terpenes, ensuring neither overshadows the other. The craft is in the nuance, in ensuring the terpenes enhance, not overpower, the beer's natural flavours.

The use of terpenes in beer primarily revolves around enhancing aromatic and flavour profiles, but they can also potentially influence the functional properties of beers. 

Here are some ways terpenes can functionally impact beer:

  1. Improved Stability: Terpenes, especially when derived from hops, can contribute to the oxidative stability of beer. Oxidation is one of the primary causes of flavour deterioration in beer. Some terpenes and their oxidation products have antioxidant properties, which can help improve the beer's shelf life.
  2. Enhanced Mouthfeel: Terpenes can contribute to the mouthfeel of beer. The sensation when consuming beer isn't just about taste but also about the tactile sensation in the mouth. The interaction between certain terpenes and other beer components can influence this perception.
  3. Mood-Enhancing Effects: Some terpenes have been researched for their potential mood-enhancing properties. For instance, linalool, found in hops and various other plants, has been linked to relaxation. By carefully selecting terpenes, brewers might craft beers that offer subtle mood-enhancing effects beyond the alcohol content.
  4. Physical Benefits: While beer isn't usually consumed for its physical benefits, some terpenes have been linked to positive effects, from anti-inflammatory properties to potential neuro-protective effects. For instance, beta-caryophyllene, a terpene found in certain hop varieties, has been researched for its potential anti-inflammatory properties.
  5. Enhanced Bioavailability: Some terpenes might enhance the bioavailability of certain compounds in beer, making them more accessible to the body. For example, certain terpenes in cannabis are believed to enhance the bioavailability of cannabinoids, a concept known as the "entourage effect." Similar interactions might occur in beer, where terpenes enhance the absorption of beneficial beer compounds.
  6. Microbial Stability: Some terpenes have antimicrobial properties. While beer, due to its alcohol content and low pH, is already relatively resistant to microbial contamination, certain terpenes could further enhance this resistance, ensuring longer shelf life and reduced spoilage.

It's important to note that while these functional properties are fascinating and offer a lot of potentials, they require careful balance. Adding too many terpenes or the wrong types can overpower a beer's aroma and flavour, detracting from the overall experience. As always, brewers interested in exploring these functional benefits should do so thoughtfully, considering the science and the art of brewing.

Why This Matters

For breweries, this isn't just about novelty. It's about delivering a product that resonates with the modern drinker's palate. Today's consumers are more informed, more experimental. They seek out experiences, stories, and authenticity. By infusing terpenes, breweries are not just enhancing flavours but are also narrating a tale of innovation and tradition fused together.

Brewers are now more experimental than ever, incorporating terpenes extracted from an array of botanical sources, from lavender to citrus peels. This innovative approach is redefining beer profiles, making each pint not just a beverage but an experience.

As we navigate the rich tapestry of craft beers, it's evident that terpenes have carved out a distinctive niche for themselves. 

However, like all innovations, the infusion of terpenes into beer isn't without its detractors. Some purists argue that it strays from traditional brewing methods. But isn't innovation what craft beer is all about? Pushing boundaries, experimenting, and seeking out new horizons?

The Future is Flavourful

While it's too early to predict how mainstream terpene-infused beers will become, it's clear that they represent a significant step in the evolution of craft beer. They embody the spirit of experimentation and the relentless quest for perfection that defines the craft beer industry.

As we sit on the cusp of this aromatic revolution, it's worth raising a glass to the future. A future where tradition and innovation dance together, and where the symphony of flavours and aromas plays on.


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